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Festivals get fruity in the Axarquía

Local harvests are a reason to party in summer in the east of Malaga province

Jennie Rhodes
JENNIE RHODES

Think of the Axarquía; the area to the east of Malaga from Rincón de la Victoria to Nerja and Maro and then the inland villages that spread around the Viñuela reservoir up the mountains towards Granada province, and you would be forgiven for seeing images of vast expanses of mango and avocado plantations. However, the rapid growth in the popularity of subtropical fruits has not yet been recognised with their own special day; it's the more traditional types of fruit that are celebrated here with festivals in their honour throughout the summer months.

The most highly esteemed fruit in the Axarquía is of course the Axarquía muscatel grape. It was even recognised in 2017 when it was added to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) agricultural heritage list, making the Axarquía muscatel grape one of the most exclusive products in the world.

Its production is steeped in centuries of local farming traditions and that is why it is honoured in the villages of Cómpeta, Iznate, Moclinejo and El Borge.

Peaches and cherries also get their own festival in the villages of Periana and Alfarnate respectively and tomatoes and almonds, which are also grown locally, are key ingredients in traditional Spanish cold soups like gazpacho and ajoblanco, are celebrated annually in Alfarnatejo and Almáchar.

Cómpeta

Grapes and wine

The 'vendimia', or the grape harvest, traditionally gets under way in mid-August in the Axarquía, and that is why the village of Cómpeta celebrates its Noche del Vino (wine night) on 15 August. Wine is offered to residents and visitors to the village who gather by the fountain on the Almijara square in the centre of the village.

The wine is soaked up by a plate of 'migas', a traditional dish consisting of breadcrumbs fried in olive oil and garlic and served with a salad. The filling meal would be enough to keep the workers going as they spent long days in the vineyards harvesting the fruit. The festivities continue into the night on the Plaza Almijara and Plaza de la Vendimia with music and dancing.

Iznate

Muscatel grapes

Iznate. / E. C.

Iznate also marks the start of the grape harvest with Día de la Uva Moscatel (muscatel grape day) and the festival always takes place on the first Saturday in August. There are walking tours, demonstrations and traditional Verdiales and Charangas music, as well as the opportunity to try the grapes and of course the raisins and sweet wine.

El Borge

Raisins

Día de la Pasa (raisin day) is celebrated in mid-September in the village of El Borge and this year it will be on Sunday 18th. There are demonstrations of traditional agricultural skills, such as threshing grain using mules, sieving the raisins and growers can be seen carrying grapes in large baskets on their heads. Wine as well as fresh grapes are also served with 'migas' just as in Cómpeta. There is music and dancing, including the traditional 'danza de la rueda' or circle dancing.

Moclinejo

Grape harvest

The pretty little village of Moclinejo is home to one of Malaga's best-known wineries, Bodega Antonio Muñoz Cabrera, which has been run by the same family since 1927. So it is unsurprising that the fruit and its products are celebrated here too. The Fiesta de los Viñeros is celebrated on the second Sunday in September and this year it will take place on the 11th.

The festival pays tribute to all of the people who work in the industry and there are demonstrations, including the traditional treading of the grapes. A huge paella is prepared and there is traditional Verdiales music. The bodega itself is well worth a visit as it is also home to the Museo del Moscatel, a museum documenting the family's winemaking history and tradition.

La Viñuela

Raisins

The village of La Viñuela, which shares its name with the Axarquía's reservoir, also pays tribute to the raisin in mid-September. The Fiesta de la Pasa will take place this year on 16 and 17 September. The event starts with a jazz festival on the Saturday and on the Sunday, the town hall gives out free grapes and sweet wine. There's also the opportunity to see the traditional grape-treading.

Alfarnate

Cherries

Alfarnate. / E. C.

The village of Alfarnate is the highest in the Axarquía region. Sitting at 900 metres above sea level in the Alhama, Almijara and Tejeda mountain range, it is known as 'The Alps of the Axarquía'. It is also known for its cherries and while the festival takes place at the end of June (this year it took place on Saturday 25), the delicious fruit is widely available throughout the summer months. Alfarnate claims that thanks to its elevation and cooler temperature, its celebrated fruit is larger and of course tastier than your average cherry.

Periana

Peaches

Periana / E. C.

On the other side of the reservoir is the village of Periana, which is probably better known for its olives and olive oil production. However, that harvest doesn't start until November, so for the summer season, we'll stick to its second-most famous produce: peaches. Like cherries, peaches are widely available in Malaga province throughout summer.

Similar to the subtropical fruits, peaches are a relative newcomer and were introduced to the village in the mid-20th century. While production has reduced since the heyday of the 1970s, when 4,000 tonnes of the fruit were picked, peaches are still grown and are celebrated as part of the village's annual fair which will run from 19 to 21 August this year, with part of the final day being dedicated to the peach harvest.

Alfarnatejo

Gazpacho

Alfarnatejo. / E. C.

The small village of Alfarnatejo, which sits slightly south west of, and not to be confused with, Alfarnate (think cherries) celebrates that most classic of Spanish summer dishes: gazpacho. The main ingredient, tomatoes are grown in the Axarquía, so it's only natural that some sort of fiesta is held in their honour, albeit via a cold soup.

The Fiesta del Gazpacho started over 20 years ago and takes place over the first weekend in August when the soup is given out free in small ceramic bowls, which can be taken home. Each year the design on the bowl is different and bears the date of the festival. There is also music and dancing.

Almáchar

Ajoblanco

Almáchar. / E. C.

One of winter's most beautiful sights in the Axarquía is the almond blossom, but move on to the beginning of September and the village of Almáchar celebrates another, less well-known cold soup which is made with almonds: ajoblanco. The almonds are mixed with garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt. It was towards the end of the 1960s when villagers started the tradition and it is recognised as a festival of special tourist interest by Andalucía's regional government. The festival takes place on the first Saturday in September.

So whether it's grapes, raisins or sweet wine that you'd like to celebrate over summer, sample a peach fresh from the tree in Periana, or try some refreshing cold soups, which of course are the ideal dish for hot summer days, then check out the veritable fruit salad of festivals that the Axarquía has to offer.